Imad Mughniyeh, the top Hezbollah man in Syria, was sent to meet his virgins by a car bomb in Damascus on February 12, 2008. Dreams Into Lightning is pleased to welcome Mughniyeh to the growing (but with plenty of room for more) list of dead terrorists.
Imad Fayez Mughniyah (December 7, 1962 - February 12, 2008), also transcribed Mughniyya, Mogniyah, Moughnie, (Arabic: عماد فايز مغنية), alias Hajj Radwan, was a senior member of the Hezbollah organization, a militant Shia Islamist group in Lebanon. He was alternatively described as the head of its security section, a senior intelligence official and as a founder of the organization. Sometimes described as a "master terrorist", Mugniyah had been implicated in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy, and U.S. Marine and French peacekeeping barracks, which killed over 350, as well as the 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the kidnapping of dozens of foreigners in Lebanon in the 1980s.
Limited information is known about him. He used the alias of Hajj. Mughniyah is included in the European Union's list of wanted terrorists. and had a US$5 million bounty on the U.S. Most Wanted Terrorist list.
According to his Lebanese passport application, Mughniyah was born in Tayr Dibba, a poor village in southern Lebanon. CIA South Group records state that he lived in Ayn Al-Dilbah; a ghetto in South Beirut. His father was a vegetable seller and during the civil war, his house was on the Green Line.
Little is known about his adolescence, but he is thought to have joined Yasser Arafat's Force 17 in 1976. His role at that time was as a sniper, targeting Christians across the Green Line. At some point, he studied engineering at the American University of Beirut.
Mughniyah has been implicated in many of terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s, primarily American and Israeli targets. These include the April 18, 1983 bombing of the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 63 people including 17 Americans. He was later blamed for the October 23, 1983 simultaneous truck bombings against French paratroopers and the U.S. Marine barracks. The attacks killed 58 French soldiers and 241 Marines. On September 20, 1984, he attacked the US embassy annex building. The United States indicted him (and his collaborator, Hassan Izz al-Din) for the June 14, 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, which resulted in the death of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem. He was also linked to numerous kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut through the 1980s, most notably that of Terry Anderson. Some of these individuals were later killed, such as U.S. Army Colonel William Francis Buckley. The remainder were released at various times until the last one, Terry Anderson was released in 1991.
He had been described as "tall, slender, well-dressed and handsome ... penetrating eyes," speaking some English but better French.
The assassination of Imad Mughniyeh, Iran’s top man in Syria and Lebanon, should set off alarm bells in Tehran. His assassination, according to Iranian media sources, took place in the Kafarsoose neighborhood of Damascus, close to an Iranian school and the headquarters of the Syrian Mukhabarat (intelligence agency). At first glance, the elimination of such a highly valuable Iranian asset, under the very noses of the Syrians, could be taken as a sign that Western intelligence agencies have managed to infiltrate the once seemingly impenetrable walls of Iran’s intelligence operations abroad. ...
The assassination of Mughniyeh is likely to lead to a major restructuring of Iran’s intelligence operations abroad, and even at home. Mughniyeh was a man who traveled frequently between Tehran and Damascus. Therefore it is very possible that his assassins were tracking his movements inside Iran as well. The worst case scenario for Tehran would be if he was compromised by someone inside Iran, a scenario which Iran’s intelligence agency, known by its Farsi acronym as VAVAK, would quite likely be looking into.
It was a fitting end for someone who planned and executed numerous deadly terrorist attacks, including the 1983 bombings of the U.S Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires, Argentina Jewish center. Mugniyah was indicted in the U.S. for his role in planning and executing the 1985, hijacking of TWA Flight 847, which resulted in the murder of one U.S. citizen.
Mughniyeh was also implicated in Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in 2006, which led to Israel's incursion into Lebanon. Contributing Experts posted several analyses at that time about his role in that conflict, including:
"Imad Mugniyah likely behind the capture of Israeli soldiers," by Bill Roggio, July 12: "The sophistication of this attack indicates Imad Fayez Mugniyah, Hezbollah's chief of military operations was directly involved. Mugniyah has a long history of successful military and terrorist operations across the globe. Mugniyah has a history of conducting similar snatch and grab operations against the Israelis."
"Inside Hizballah’s decision-making," by Magnus Ranstorp, July 14: "The file for handling special operations of this kind is usually left to Imad Mughniyeh, the elusive terrorist mastermind for Hizballah, who stands with one foot within Hizballah (reporting to Naserallah directly) and with one foot in Iran inside the architectures of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the al-Qods unit within the Iranian Pasdaran.
See original for links.
[Hezbollah] had recently been resupplied with rockets, shipped under the label of civilian supplies, past the UN Peacekeeping force. Hezbollah was also supposed to have sent reconnaissance teams disguised as journalist to the Lebanese/Israeli border to obtain video footage of certain areas. The strike on Mughniyeh suggests that parallel counterpreparations mirroring those of Hezbollah were simultaneously in progress. Mughaniyeh was regarded as a particularly difficult target. Wikipedia quotes Robert Baer, a former CIA officer as saying, "Mugniyah is probably the most intelligent, most capable operative we’ve ever run across, including the KGB or anybody else. He enters by one door, exits by another, changes his cars daily, never makes appointments on a telephone, never is predictable. He only uses people that are related to him that he can trust. He doesn’t just recruit people."
To say that Mughniyeh was an Iranian asset is to understate his relationship with the Iranians. He was much more than an asset. He was an organic part of the Iranian regime, answering directly to Khamenei. Just like Hezbollah is itself an organic extension of the Islamic Revolution -- an Iranian ministry as one Iranian analyst told me -- Mughniyeh is like one step above that, answering directly to Khamenei according to some analysts.
As such, this is a big loss for the Iranians. It was perhaps best encapsulated in the statement by Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who declared that "the march of Jihad against the enemy has lost an essential pillar." Operationally, this adds to the losses suffered by Hezbollah in 2006, which, unlike stockpiles of Katyushas, is much more difficult to replace.
But it's also a huge embarrassment for Syria. As Michael Rubin noted at NRO's Corner, "as important as who was killed is where." Not that we needed this, or Mughniyeh's aunt Fayza for that matter, to know that Damascus is terror central.
Coming a few months after the Sept. 6 hit on their nuclear facility in Deir el-Zor, this hit on a most-wanted terrorist, harbored in a joint Iranian-Syrian location in the heart of Damascus is a major embarrassment for Assad. Regardless who did it, it reflects quite badly on Assad, not long after his secret nuke facility was pulverized. Speculation over who did it only adds to the embarrassment no matter how you cut it, and whether Israel did it or not, the suspicion that it did would once again make a mockery of Assad's and Hezbollah's proclamations regarding the "loss of deterrence" after the 2006 war.
But here is something that none of the press accounts I’ve read today have reported: Imad Mugniyah played an instrumental role in al Qaeda’s rise. I detailed Mugniyah’s role in al Qaeda’s terror in Iran’s Proxy War Against America, a short book published by the Claremont Institute last year. I won’t go into all of the details again in this post, but here is a quick summary of the relationship:
• Mugniyah met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan in the early 1990’s. The two agreed to work together against their common enemies, including America. Al Qaeda operatives were then trained by Mugniyah and other Hezbollah trainers, as well as Iranian personnel, in Sudan, Lebanon, and Iran. Both the Clinton administration, in its first two indictments of al Qaeda and bin Laden, and the 9/11 Commission found significant evidence of this early collaboration.
• According to Bob Baer, a long-time CIA operative who tracked Mugniyah for years, one of Mugniyah’s goons facilitated the travel of an al Qaeda operative en route to the November 19, 1995, bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. The bombing was among al Qaeda’s earliest operations.
• There is no real doubt that Iran and Mugniyah’s Hezbollah were primarily responsible for the June 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. But the 9/11 Commission also found evidence that al Qaeda may have played some role. Intelligence indicates that al Qaeda was planning a similar operation in the months prior. And afterwards, in telephone conversations that were evidently intercepted, Osama bin Laden received congratulations from his fellow terrorists, including Ayman al Zawahiri.
• Al Qaeda’s August 7, 1998, embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania were modeled after Mugniyah’s bombings in Lebanon in 1983. According to the 9/11 Commission, bin Laden asked Mugniyah for help in executing such attacks and Mugniyah agreed to provide his assistance. Thereafter, al Qaeda adopted Hezbollah’s modus operandi: simultaneous attacks by suicide bombers. Al Qaeda’s August 7, 1998, bombings directly mirrored Hezbollah’s simultaneous strike against the U.S. Marine barracks and a headquarters for French paratroopers on October 23, 1983. In fact, the 9/11 Commission found that some of the terrorists responsible for the embassy bombings were trained by Hezbollah. This is a crucial point: al Qaeda’s most successful attack prior to 9/11--the August 7, 1998, embassy bombings--was modeled after Hezbollah’s operations.
• After the 9/11 attacks, Bob Baer immediately suspected that Mugniyah and his masters had played some role. (I also discussed this in a previous article, "Sy Hersh’s Overactive Imagination".) Amazingly, the 9/11 Commission found that senior Hezbollah operatives were aware of and facilitated the travel of many of the 9/11 hijackers. This evidence was so “disturbing” that the Commission called for a further investigation into the matter. Although he was not named by the Commission directly, Mugniyah was reportedly one of the senior Hezbollah terrorists involved.
The assassination of top Shite militant Imad Mughniyeh is important for many reasons, not the least of which was his long-standing ties to Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network and his crucial role as a link between the Iranian special forces and Hezbollah.
It is also interesting to note that Hezbollah, where Mughniyeh was a top strategist for many years, claimed him as their own immediately upon his death, despite denying responsibility in several of the actions for which he is most famous.
Hezbollah was a joint Iranian-Syrian operation in which the Iranians ran the organization and Syria provided the base, and logistical support. As I was the first to report, he flew with Iranian President Ahmadi-Nezhad to Damascus for high-level meetings with Bashar Assad and key Syrian military and intelligence officers a while back. So he had very high standing among the terror masters.
What truly amazes me is that US media are far more fixated today on whether Roger Clemens was injected with steroids years ago, then they seem to be in this huge story involving the mysterious targeted assassination of a man responsible for hundreds of American lives.
Iran, Syria and Hizballah are certain that the bomb planted in the master terrorist’s Mitsubishi Pajero in the heart of the Syrian capital was rigged by the Israeli Mossad. They are therefore most certainly setting up a major reprisal in the form of a terrorist hit or a military assault.
Wednesday night, all Hizballah’s top leaders went to ground. They even gave the mourning tent set up in the Shiite district of Beirut for their dead leader a wide berth.
Our sources report that the long-sought terrorist was finally despatched by a small explosive inserted between the driver’s seat and the back seats, which destroyed only one part of the vehicle. The front and rear remained intact. Mughniyeh was driving alone to a reception marking Islamic Revolution Day at the Iranian embassy in the Romana district.
DEBKAfile’s counter-terror experts note that the way the explosion was set up recalled the method used by the hit team which killed the Jihad Islami senior operative Ghaleb Ghali in Damascus in October 2004. Then, too, Syria held Israel responsible.
Mughniyeh’s death represents a major blow for Hizballah. Along with his skills in organizing terrorist operations, Mughniyeh was credited with organizing the group’s defenses during the 2006 war with Israel. He also served as a primary liaison between the group and its patrons in Iran. In fact, Mughniyeh also held a position in the Iranian Quods Force, which provides extensive training and support for Hizballah.
Tuesday’s car bombing is also an embarrassment for Damascus, at least officially. A number of terror groups maintain offices in the Syrian capital, and operate there with relative impunity. As the Washington Post observed, the successful effort to eliminate Mughniyeh represents a “major breach” in Syria’s police-state security apparatus.
Remarks. The embarassment to the Syrian regime can hardly be overstated. As I commented on the recent Israeli airstrike on Syria, the message here seems to be "Syria, you are our bitches."
If sources like Stratfor are to be believed, back-channel negotiations between the US and Iran, centering on Iraq, may now be thrown into chaos or scrapped. This doesn't strike me as altogether a bad thing.